LILLE, France (AP) Tournament MVP Pau Gasol had a double-double as Spain cruised past Lithuania 80-63 Sunday to regain the European basketball championship title.
Spain earned its third title in the last four tournaments after having to settle for bronze two years ago. For Lithuania, it was a second straight runner-up finish after losing the final against France in 2013.
”It was an incredible championship,” Gasol said. ”We went through struggles early on but the team responded well and with our backs to the wall we understood that we had to play better defense.”
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Earlier, France pulled away in the third quarter to beat Serbia 81-68 for the bronze medal.
With Spain’s King Felipe VI and tennis star Rafael Nadal watching on, the final was a one-sided affair as the Spaniards opened a 13-point lead in the first quarter and were never really threatened. The king presented the medals to the Spanish players, who celebrated with their fans in the stands after the ceremony.
Gasol finished with 25 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots, one steal and no turnovers to earn the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.
”It’s of special significance to play this well at this stage of my career after all I’ve accomplished,” said Gasol, the 35-year-old Chicago Bulls center who has two NBA championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers. ”It is something I will remember until the end of my life.”
The victory completed a turnaround for Spain, which came to the tournament without Mark Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Juan Carlos Navarro and Ricky Rubio and lost two of its first three games.
But with Gasol dominating, Spain raised its game when it mattered and looked impressive throughout the knockout stage. Gasol put his stamp on the final early, scoring eight straight points for Spain to lead 19-6.
That helped the team overcome the loss of influential guard Rudy Fernandez halfway into the third quarter when he was fouled by Robertas Javtokas. Fernandez fell to the ground and was helped off the floor while holding his left hip, and did not return.
Matas Kalneitas and Renaldas Seibutis scored 13 points each for Lithuania. Star Jonas Valanciunas had 10 points and nine rebounds.
”They were just much better than us,” Kalneitas said.
Spain and Lithuania booked direct slots at next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Spain won the silver medal in the last two Olympics and Gasol said he’d be around once again if his body holds.
Valanciunas joined Gasol, Spain guard Sergio Rodriguez, Lithuania forward Jonas Maciulis and France guard Nando de Colo in the tournament’s all-star team.
In the third-place game, the host team outscored Serbia 21-12 in the third quarter following a 10-0 run and led by as many as 16 points.
De Colo led France with 20 points, while center Rudy Gobert had 15 points and 14 rebounds. Evan Fournier added 15 points, including five straight in the fourth that dispelled any hopes of a Serbian comeback as France took a 12-point lead.
”This is not what we came here for but it’s always good to finish with a win,” de Colo said.
Both Serbia and France clinched spots in qualifying tournaments for the Olympics. France coach Vincent Collet said all French stars, including Tony Parker, who had 13 points on 3-for-12 shooting from the field, would return.
”We all agreed that that the main goal is to win an Olympic medal, this is the last chance for this generation to win an Olympic medal, but it won’t be easy to qualify,” Collet said.
Serbia’s star guard Milos Teodosic went 0-for-9 from the field and his only points were three free throws. Bogdan Bogdanovic led Serbia with 14 points. France pulled down 14 more rebounds.
Serbia’s coach Sasha Djordjevic said his team would be back ”with more heart and more desire.”
”We want to go to the Olympics,” said Djordjevic, who guided his team to the World Cup silver medal last year.